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written Friday, 8/6/2010


The cab driver insisted that he knew who had burglarized my apartment two years ago right before evacuation for Hurricane Gustav.

“Yeah, I’ll tell you exactly who did it. It’s demfukkinstudents of yours.”

Even when I explained that a thievin’ crackhead was spotted entering my place and nabbed red-handed while subsequently trying to break into my neighbor’s half of the duplex, cabbie couldn’t be swayed.

Demfukkinkids were also responsible for my first apartment burglary five years ago. And they don care bout nothin. And all demfukkingirlsthesedays have venereal diseases. At least 95%. Really, it’s true.

So I was informed.

Oddly, I found cabbie to be quite enjoyable despite his profane rants (I realize his friendliness doesn’t transmit well through his quotes).

By way of cordial introductions while loading my bags into the trunk, he jumped right into cursing disfukkincity before we even pulled away from the curb at the airport. He immediately surmised that I wasn’t originally from New Orleans since I didn’t seem like “the type.” He didn’t expound on that comment. I wondered where he was from.

“You grew up in California an’ don’ rec’nize my accent? You should be shot four times!” (Why four?... I didn’t ask. Seems excessive though. He would later suggest after another infraction of mine that five times was more fitting.)

Cabbie told me he was Persian, coming to the US 32 years ago. If Iran is truly trying to develop a bomb, this guy had plenty of the f- variety. He made for an entertaining ride back home to uptown New Orleans though, returning from my late summer visit to AZ (visit to mom) and CA (big kudos to cuz on the spectacular wedding!)

With summer vacation winding down, cabbie got me thinking about demfukkinkids again. Sure I’m guilty of occasionally griping about kidsthesedays stemming from my teaching experiences, but as I defended them against cabbie’s onslaught, I inadvertently reminded myself how fond I invariably become of them in the course of a school year.

“But we’ve got some really good kids at our school,” I argued weakly, knowing I would not alter his worldview during a short cab ride yet not willing to just amicably agree with his barbs. I started thinking about the students who will be in my two Calculus sections next year – for some of them this will be our third year together (Poor saps). My mind wandered to the four PreCalculus sections of kids who will become my students for the first time. I started getting excited about returning to school on Monday and then welcoming students back one week later. Vacation has been nice, but it officially ends for Lusher faculty this afternoon (When the weekend begins, vacation officially ends in my view). I’m okay with that. I moved to New Orleans to become a teacher, so I’m ready to go back. My current emotional state is a perfect place to be for a teacher.

Hot fun in the summertime

I did spend the bulk of this summer stepping back and trying to nurture my own sense of contentedness. Summer absence from the school year routine is absolutely necessary for making this teacher’s heart grow fonder (which is largely why I shall nevereverever teach summer school for as long as finances allow). I didn’t completely avoid the educational setting though.

I accepted a couple private math tutoring gigs and kept occupied in much of June auditing an introductory digital video class at Lusher. The Summer Arts Intensive is intended for students, but the media arts teacher graciously let me crash the party.

I also enjoyed popping in on the Greater New Orleans Writing Project. I originally participated in this wonderful course at University of New Orleans in summer 2007 and I’ve been a guest presenter each summer since. The stipend I also receive this year for being the “tech liason” is simply a welcome bonus. I would have done it gratis for the opportunity to stretch out of my comfort zone again amongst fellow local teachers.

Dürer's "Cupid the Honey Thief"

"From Venus to Cupid" poem

"Highfalutin' Poetry" poem

Louisiana’s Poet Laureate, Darrell Bourque, visited us and led a poetry activity at GNOWP on one of the days I stopped by. One of his lessons had us writing poetry that was to be inspired by a postcard which each of us chose from a stack. My selected postcard featured Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 painting “Cupid the Honey Thief.” Our poems were also to include five words that we had individually written down during a previous activity. Mine were: Discontinuity, Slumps, Relinquish, Woeful, Randomness.

Darrell complimented the use of voice in my resulting poem “From Venus to Cupid.” I was flattered that he ended up reading it along with anther GNOWP writer’s moving Katrina poem on his weekly KRVS (Lake Charles, LA) radio spot From The Poet Laureate’s Bookshelf (recording here).

I enjoyed the various GNOWP poetry writing lessons, yet along the way we did encounter a small handful of poems that I might politely call “lofty” or “a bit too deep for me.” The kind of poems that require an advanced degree to understand. The kind of poems that feel like a burdensome homework assignment. The kind of poems that seem designed to make you feel like you just failed the entry requirements for some elitist literary clique. In response I wrote my ode to “Highfalutin’ Poetry.” It’s not my finest work, but it was so much fun to write. It resonated well with numerous others in GNOWP who felt that they too weren’t cool enough for poetic high society.

In contrast, I do consider last year’s “Sinusoidal Curve” poem and subsequent video to be one of my all-time best creative works even though the actual math content caters to a narrow geeky niche. (Does that make it highfalutin’?) An elusive stroke of inspiration allowed me to write a poem that exudes passion in the non-math-lovin’ ear without dumbing-down the rather hefty mathematics. For much of the past year I told people that this project was a one-shot deal. I assumed I’d never be able to write something quite like it again.

However, this summer provided me the time and relaxed mindset to conjure up another stroke of mathematical/poetic inspiration. I feel this year’s piece, “Lady Logarithm,” is every bit as hot as Sinusoidal Curve and does an even better job of connecting the content to the real world. I’ve already alerted three arts teachers at Lusher to get the wheels rolling on a collaboration for another video. Big tease that I am, I shall not yet post the poem itself. However, another appearance at an open mic poetry night may be in order. I will post the poem and video at that time if it indeed occurs.

Ink Free

In early July the AP scores came in. Some students did very well, and I was extremely pleased to see a handful of 4s and 5s (out of a high score of 5). I couldn’t be more proud of them. Nonetheless, the overall class average was not high enough for me to get the math tattoo I had conditionally promised them. Of greater concern to me than the tattoo challenge is my strong belief that many of the lower-scoring students know the calculus content better than their scores indicate. I know many of them gave it a strong effort, and I’m sure they’re disappointed not to see a better payoff in their scores. I felt that my primary goal of teaching math and providing a positive yet extremely challenging learning experience was accomplished for most students last year. However, as much as I hate to become preoccupied with a standardized test, this coming year I will need to make higher priority of specifically preparing them for the AP Exam itself.

And as for the prospect of someday getting inked for the sake of math education, I’ve decided that I will go ‘head and issue the challenge once again for the calculus class of ‘11.

Nerd Heaven

My fascination with Calculus is still on an upswing. Even within the confines of content covered in a high-school or early college math class, I’m still picking up new relationships, nuances, and perspectives that completely eluded me in my formal education. I still find myself frequently thinking, “Holy crap, I can’t believe this stuff actually works.”

Sometimes I have worried that the abnormal degree to which I tinker and toil with math just for fun may be unhealthy. Reasoning that there are worse addictions to be had, this summer I chose to put such concerns aside and simply indulge.

I took a class from my favorite teacher: Mr. White! Countless hours were spent in local coffee shops, in restaurants, in the park, and at home teaching myself topics from the calculus textbook that are beyond the curriculum of my class. Some of it I vaguely recall from long ago studies, but the bulk of it was long forgotten. In many cases, the strong insights I’ve gained in the recent years of teaching AP Calculus AB equipped me with the ability to only glance at the problems posed at the beginning of a chapter and then draw the conclusions on my own.

What an incredible feeling to tackle these weighty topics with little more than my own intellect… to discover the vast and deep interconnectedness of a field that once seemed segregated into loosely-related subjects… to see elegance and clarity in a discipline that at times seemed murky … to believe that I’m connecting on some level, however small, to the brilliant brains who pioneered this stuff from ancient to modern times… to steer my own educational path… to know that I can pursue this academic journey as long as I want to… to know that no matter how deep I go, there will always be mind-boggling discoveries waiting ahead.

That is what I aim to convey to my students. That is what I want them to experience someday, whether it’s in mathematics or some other (lesser!) field. I tend to believe that such wondrous experiences are less likely to blossom within the structure of the educational system that I work within, but I would love to believe that my classroom can serve as a launch pad for their future adventures. That is what I want for demfukkinkids when we return to school next week.

Random photo: A few modular origami models I made this summer which challenge one's geometric sensibilities. Designs from